The movement against pipelines in Komi emerged mainly because of constant oil spills taking place along the River Kolva. The biggest oil spills were reported in 1988, 1992 and 1994. In 1994, 100,000 tons of oil were discharged between Usinsk and Kharyaga, which was the major cause of the social movement appraisal against outdated oil pipelines as well as new oil infrastructure construction. However, oil spills continue, more than 90 oil spills took place in Komi Republic since 1094 (Staalesen, 2014). According to activists in the villages, the spills have caused health problems among the population, as well as economic problems, constraints on livelihoods and a feeling among the population of betrayal by the government (Interview with local activist, Krasnobor, 21 February 2015).
The grassroots environmental movement in the Izhma district arose during the late Soviet period. Save Pechora Committee (SPC) was formed in 1989, on the wave of Perestroika, when after the Chernobil accident environmental NGOs were formed all over Russia after various economic and social problems had emerged in the region.
People on the SPC were former Soviet leaders gaining experience on how to act in Post Soviet system (Pierk, Tysiachniouk 2016). The chairperson of the Committee claimed that ‘something can only be achieved by the resistance of the people’ (Interview with local activist on SPC, Izhma, 20 February 2015). After the 1994 oil spill near the town of Usinsk, the SPC and the Komi-Izhemtsi organization Izviatas dedicated themselves to fighting outdated pipeline infrastructure.
Lukoil has stated that it plans to modernize all pipelines by 2025 (Interview with a representative of Lukoil, Moscow, April 2015); yet, the local activists doubt this.
Citizens concern is that they are not involved in the decision-making processes about building of new oil-drilling stations. Local villagers are poorly informed about future plans, for example, oil infrastructure was built within 1.5 km of a school in Krasnobor in the Izma district, in other places near water wells (interviews with local activists in Krasnobor, February 2015). The company burned leaking oil, covered leakage with moss or not properly cleaned up spillage (Interview with local resident in Krasnabor, February 2015).
Grievances related to oil spills, as well as a lack of recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights, have led to the rise of an environmental movement stretching from the grassroots to global levels. The SPC has 29 members from eight villages and volunteers from all over the Pechora region campaigning against Lukoil. They fought for a cleaner environment as well as for greater involvement in the decision-making processes of the oil industry and the state. The repertoire of collective action included multiple protests against outdated oil infrastructure every year, monitoring of implementation of environmental legislation, lawsuits when protests were restricted by the government, legislative initiative to ban oil pipelines use over 20 years (2017), initiative to hold a referendum on using outdated pipelines (2017).
In December 2017 the whole week of protests took place in Ust-Usa and Novikboz, villages affected by oil exploration and new construction planned in Pechora River floodplain, in 2018 protests continued, but the new infrastructure was built. Save Pechora Committee closely cooperated with Komi-Izemtsy indigenous association Izviatas, with Greenpeace and youth volunteer organisation Stopoilspills as well as with Silver Taiga Foundation.